HOLYOKE — An ugly scene erupted between Massachusetts State Police and agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration during a predawn raid of a converted firehouse on Aug. 22, briefly imperiling drug task forces across the commonwealth.
Investigators had uncovered a bounty of marijuana, illegal guns, exotic cars and millions of dollars at 452 Main St., where alleged marijuana trafficker Cory A. Taylor lived.
State, local and federal law enforcement agents have for decades partnered harmoniously to crack down on the illicit drug trade throughout the region. On that morning, though, investigators clashed, sources familiar with the investigation say.
The fallout threatened the breakdown of joint drug task forces across the state amid an opioid epidemic, and during a time when illicit marijuana sales still trigger violence despite the controlled legalization of the drug.
The search that tripped the controversy occurred one day after a traffic stop in Hampshire County when troopers found 138 bales of weed in an Econoline van driven by Taylor, 41. Both troopers and DEA agents had been separately investigating Taylor, according to court records.
Taylor posted $2,000 bail and walked away from the Hampshire County jail just before midnight on Aug. 21. He did not appear for his Eastern Hampshire District Court arraignment in Belchertown three days later, police records say, and remains a fugitive.
Meanwhile, a search ensued at Taylor’s “luxury dwelling” in Holyoke. The fallout from that raid extended far beyond an alleged drug trafficker who went on the run, according to multiple law enforcement sources.
The raid at the former firehouse reportedly involved a crew made up of feds, members of an established Commonwealth Interstate Narcotics Reduction Enforcement Team, partners in the Hampden County Narcotics Task Force composed solely of state and local police, and troopers connected to the Hampden district attorney’s office.
In the early morning hours about 20 investigators — mostly state troopers — began to inventory the spoils and haul it away. Members of the DEA began taking the cash to be counted, according to law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation. But state troopers balked, arguing it was their case — and some blocked federal agents’ cars in with their cruisers, sources say.
There was a lot of yelling. Bosses were called in the middle of the night, officials said.
Many local, state and federal law enforcement officials have remained tight-lipped about the rift. But sources with knowledge of the incident told The Republican that drug task forces could have fallen apart if it weren’t for negotiations involving top state administrators, the state police, Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, the DEA and Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association.
The DEA floated its intentions to eject state troopers from statewide partnerships, sources said, and the Massachusetts Police Chiefs Association threatened to urge local officers to withdraw from anti-drug alliances across the commonwealth.
The DEA blinked, apparently recognizing the federal agency could not succeed without locals on the ground. Zoom video meetings reportedly drew in the highest levels of state law enforcement, including Massachusetts State Police Col. Christopher Mason and Secretary of Public Safety Thomas Turco.
Hampden Police Chief Jeffrey Farnsworth, president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, confirmed he participated in negotiations to mend the rift.
“It was a brief situation. I think it was just a series of miscommunications. … Anytime you get a bunch of ’Type A’s’ together … things can happen,” Farnsworth said. “Everybody wants to do to the same job and that’s to get as many drugs off our streets as we can. Once everyone refocused on that it wasn’t an issue.”
The Hampden chief added that he wasn’t invited to mediate, he “just did it.”
Spokesmen for the DEA, state police, municipal police chiefs and other agencies declined to comment on the dispute.
“The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security supports the ongoing partnership among local, state and federal law enforcement on behalf of Massachusetts communities,” said Jake Wark, a spokesman for that state office that oversees the state police, among other agencies.
The dispute illustrated the relative fragility of law enforcement partnerships, which began cropping up during the war on drugs in the 1980s.
Retired West Springfield Police Chief Ron Campurciani — now chief of police in Moorseville, North Carolina — recalls his days as a young member of one of the first joint task forces in Western Massachusetts in 1988. He said strife has occurred between “cooperating” law enforcement agencies, to some extent, for decades and typically ebbs and flows.
The alliance included local police officers, state troopers, and federal agents from the IRS, DEA, U.S. Postal Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and immigration agents who came later, he recalled.
It was the first of its kind locally, born of the Reagan-era “Say no to Drugs” culture. The task force opened a discreet office at the corner of Bridge and Main streets in Springfield with a phony placard about a production company on the door, Campurciani said. They were called the Western Massachusetts Narcotics task force and investigated only high-level dealers and organized crime, to an extent.
“It was a new concept … brand new. I don’t want to get corny here. … Cops are for the most part A-type personalities so everyone thinks they’re great,” Campurciani said with a chuckle. “On some level we all thought we were the Serpicos of Western Massachusetts.”
But the task force made big drug busts, including one involving a Jordanian national trafficking heroin from the Middle East, according to Campurciani. The team arrested the man at the former Springfield bus station on Main Street with 4.5 pounds of pure heroin, which had a street value of about $10 million at the time, he said.
The members worked hard together and played hard together, he said. There was little to no risk of bumping into competing task forces because it was the only one — whereas today, task forces investigating drug-, gang- and gun-related violence abound.
But eventually members left for promotions or other jobs and the partnerships began to fracture slightly. Campurciani left the task force when he was promoted to sergeant in the West Springfield Police Department in 1995.
“We began to hear things. The state police broke off and created their own task force. … West Springfield stayed with the DEA and Holyoke went with the state police. I can’t speak to what happened because I wasn’t there anymore,” he said. “But something caused them to split and go in different directions.”
Taylor, the suspect in the Holyoke case, is still at large, according to his attorney, Springfield’s Vincent Bongiorni.